North bounces back as Hughes bounced out
Steve Harmison shook Australia's top order for the second time as Phillip Hughes and Ricky Ponting suffered dual failures a week before their Ashes defence. Marcus North made sure he could relax in the lead-up to the match by posting a satisfying 106 to end his poor start to the tour, but Harmison inflicted some pain on two of the side's key batsmen in Worcester.
While Ponting knows how to lift following his 1 and 15, Hughes will have to show the type of maturity not expected of a 20-year-old after being caught twice fending short balls from Harmison against the England Lions. Hughes has a technique as home-baked as the cakes in the ladies' pavilion and will have to consider some alterations after his awkward back-foot play again led his downfall.
Following Hughes' 7 on Wednesday, Harmison felt the left-hander was susceptible to balls arriving between his hip and shoulder and after two fours through the offside he switched to around the wicket. Hughes was cramped by one that angled in and couldn't drop or remove his glove from the line of the ball, which sailed to Eoin Morgan at second slip.
Hughes dealt with this sort of bowling well in his second and third Tests after overcoming a similarly ugly start in his debut innings against South Africa. He has some strong judges as advisors, including Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey, and they believe he is tough enough to cope long-term in the international arena, but life will become harder for a player who has only known successful campaigns.
Whether Harmison will be in Cardiff to torment him depends on the judgment of England's selectors. Harmison, who needs to edge ahead of one of James Anderson, Stuart Broad or Andrew Flintoff, has troubled the Australians on all three days and displayed some much-needed consistency. If England play two spinners there will be even less room.
There were four wickets in the first innings and 2 for 36 off 12 overs on Friday when he showed again that there was fire locked inside his gangly frame. Once Hughes left, Ponting edged a drive that flew to gully to leave the tourists at an uncomfortable 41 for 2. Simon Katich was also struck on the body not playing at short ones, preferring a sore back or shoulder to a premature departure, and he dragged the team forward.
Katich stayed for 37 before he was taken at short leg off the legspinner Adil Rashid and will enter the first Test in strong form after 95 in the first innings. Michael Clarke also batted smoothly in the afternoon alongside North, who was at his best when playing straight down the ground. He started with some glances and when he passed 11 he had his highest score of the tour.
There were some crisp drives in his 13 boundaries and he showed purposeful footwork, forgetting his struggles over the previous week. His hundred came late in the day with a single to square leg and the crowd recognised his welcome contribution as he finished unbeaten. More pressure will arrive next week but he is no longer the fragile link in a side still attempting to convince as a unit. By stumps the Australians had reached 276 for 4, with Clarke fine tuning with 80 before chipping Vikram Solanki to long-on, ending the 170-run stand with North.
Before lunch the fast bowlers chipped in to dismiss the Lions for 352 and take a six-run lead on first innings. Brett Lee added another wicket when he removed Sajid Mahmood in painful fashion, a short ball rushing into the batsman's shoulder, popping over his body and hitting the stumps.
By then Mitchell Johnson had his first victim and Stuart Clark cleaned up with the final two breakthroughs. Rashid left with 66 when taken athletically by Michael Hussey, who dived to his right at gully. Lee's 6 for 76 sealed his spot alongside Johnson and Peter Siddle for Cardiff while the performance of Nathan Hauritz, who did not bowl on the third day, should allow Clark to resume his Test career after elbow surgery.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo